La Spezia is a city in Northern Italy, famous for the Cinque Terre rugged coastline. A peaceful and charming area, visited annually by countless tourists from all over the world. But slap bang in the middle of La Spezia, home to nearly 100,000 Italians, lies a power plant which is providing coal-fired electricity to the city since 1962.
The Eugenio Montale plant also provides heaps of pollution and health risks. Many people have lost friends or relatives to cancer in the area.
Daniela Patrucco has been involved in the battle against Eugenio Montale since 2011, as spokesperson of the ‘Comitato SpeziaViaDalCarbone’. She tells us that the movement against the power plant already started in the 1980s, leading to a referendum in 1990. Then, the citizens of La Spezia said they wanted the plant shut down by 2005.
But twenty-five years later, it is still operating. Some coal units of the plant have been replaced by gas units, but there are no signs that operator Enel wants to switch off the coal units of the power plant. And what’s even more striking: the gas units are supposed to be dismissed within a few years and have almost never been used.
Much of the fight is focused on the health impact. Since the central and local governments started a process for new permit in 2011, the Comitato has done quite some research on the negative health effects of the power plant.
What was worrying is that some emissions of Eugenio Montale have almost doubled in recent years – for example dangerous chemicals sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides.
The coal is being brought to La Spezia by ship, offloaded and then put on a conveyor belt. This operation happens literally 50 meters from a primary school. The belt is roofed but when there is rain or wind, particles from the coal leak into the air, further eroding health standards. Next to the plant is another school.
The impact of the power plant is much bigger than on just the pupils. The emissions lead to further warming of the climate, and also the surroundings of La Spezia are affected.
Recently the group discovered an illegal dump area of coal ash dating from the 1980s, 40 km from La Spezia. The ash has heavily polluted the area but also the river that runs through it. Research has shown that the pollutants found are four times over the legal limit.
Fighting the company or the state?
Daniela Patrucco and the Comitato run the campaign primarily on their own but they cooperate in a wider network of national NGOs. Greenpeace sent several campaigners down to La Spezia and SpeziaViaDalCarbone is also in touch with WWF Italy (check out WWF’s campaign), as well as organizations like ReteStopEnel and the national coordination of the no coke committee.
When she started in 2011, Patrucco expected a fight with Enel. “Instead it quickly evolved into a battle with the institutions,” Patrucco recalls. “They have never listened to us, they never recognized or invited us.” On the other hand, the Enel company did receive them and the day after the interview, Patrucco went to the annual shareholders’ meeting in Rome to make a statement, together with Banca Etica as a critical shareholder.
Enel, for 30% owned by the Italian state, has recently made announcements that it wants to invest more in renewable energy and close up to 23 power plants. But Eugenio Montale is not one of them.
The Comitato SpeziaViaDalCarbone has organised several protests in the past against the power plant, attracting local and national media. “How can we allow the situation in which emissions in Italy have been going down, while in La Spezia they have doubled?” wonders Patrucco. “This is not just about CO2 emissions but also about SOx, Nox and dust – heavy metals and particles that are very dangerous to the citizens of the La Spezia area.”
Due to the direction of the winds, also neighbouring areas are affected. For Patrucco this is crucial as it shows that plants have a wider impact. “We heat up the atmosphere and pollute the region as well.”
Lawsuits are still ongoing, because of the increased emissions and because the eight-year permit has been extended on unclear grounds. Enel may have to pay for damages.
Daniela Patrucco hopes that Eugenio Montale will be closed soon, just as happened in 2014 in neighbouring Savona – there another coal plant of Tirreno Power was shut down on court order. See the story of Savona on the Coal Map for more information about that fight.
An alternative to coal
According to Comitato SpeziaViaDalCarbone, the plant can be shut down without any problem.
The impact on the electricity production will be zero, expects Patrucco. “Italy has a huge overcapacity in electricity generation. This plant simply is not necessary.”
Secondly, the amount of jobs lost will be “more in the amount of hundreds than of thousands.” But the labour unions are against closure, which annoys Patrucco clearly. “The labour unions are still thinking as if this was the 1960s, an age of industrialisation. They are even asking the government for increasing the energy demand! We need to move on and retrain the workers to get jobs in the renewable and energy efficiency sector.”
Check the video out here:
Thanks to WWF Italy for organising the interview with Daniela Patrucco